A motion calling for the government to oppose a loan scheme to fund higher education was defeated in the Seanad today by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
The motion, proposed by Labour, called on the government to reject any income contingent loan scheme to fund third-level education. The Labour motion also wanted the government to end existing university fees and to implement a “truly publicly funded higher education system in Ireland”.
Instead, the Seanad voted to support a Fianna Fail and Fine Gael amendment to the motion which called for consensus on how higher education should be funding, with no mention of a loan scheme or free education appearing in the amendment.
Student Unions, including Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) expressed their support for Labour’s motion prior to the vote. Following its reject, President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Michael Kerrigan expressed his disappointment in the result, stating: “Not all of our Senators were brave enough to make the ambitious decision and reject an income contingent loan scheme, despite the obvious and unfair burden placed on students and their families. The message is loud and clear to future students: take your €20,000 debt, your degree, and get out.”
Speaking about the original Labour motion, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said: “When it comes to higher education, we need to be ambitious and remove financial barriers to access education. A deferred payment scheme, which is an option proposed in the Cassells’ Report, would be disastrous for students in Ireland”.
In the Seanad, Ó Ríordáin called for an increase in state investment and a significant contribution from employers into higher education. “Businesses benefit significantly from a highly educated workforce and their contribution to higher education should reflect that”.
The plans for increased employer funding of higher education was suggested by the Cassells report on the financing of higher education. The report stated a need to increase university and Institute of Technology’s budgets by €600m from their 2015 levels by 2021.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, announced plans earlier this year to raise the National Training Fund (NTF) levy to 1% over three years . The increase would go towards funding new places in fields most in short supply. The increase could raise €200 million more per year for third-level education.
However, the move has faced criticism, from the employers’ group Ibec and state bodies such as enterprise Ireland. Ibec argues that an increase would undermine Ireland’s competitiveness and called the move an “inappropriate response”.
Additional reporting by Aisling Grace and Seana Davis